Review: Akbank Jazz Festival




N. Buket Cengiz reports on Turkey's Akbank Jazz Festival, which attracted large crowds to an international selection of cutting-edge performers

Istanbul Jazz Festival by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), organised for the 24th time last summer, is the one that comes to mind when jazz in this city is the subject.

However, Istanbul has another jazz event worthy of attention: Akbank Jazz Festival, which is actually three years older than IKSV’s festival. This organisation, a member of the European Jazz Network, has been bringing tunes of jazz to the city for all these years with its slogan "the jazz version of the city."

The festival is known to host cutting-edge music from all over the world and this year was no exception: held for the 27th time between 3-19 November 2017, it offered a programme difficult to choose from with music from a wide array of jazz genres and sub-genres. In response, an audience of 25000 attended the concerts at this year’s Akbank Jazz, which opened with a special event hosting the Ohio-born jazz singer Vanessa Rubin on 2 November at the Seed within the Sakıp Sabancı Museum on the Bosporus.

One of the most unforgettable moments of the festival was the concert by Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba at the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall on 12 November. The duo project of the two legendary musicians entitled Trance received great admiration from the audience as the notes flew from the classical Cuban repertoire to popular songs.

The concert of the Norwegian duo of tuba player and composer Daniel Herskedal (pictured above right) and sax player Marius Neset came to the fore as a perfect festival experience: this was an opportunity to hear, once again in Istanbul, two musicians celebrated for their potential to bring new dimensions to jazz in the coming years.

Among the guests of this year’s festival the 35-year-old mathematician, pianist and composer Benedikt Jahnel from Berlin was one of the most intriguing: his concert sold out quite quickly. Jahnel’s trio (pictured left), founded in New York and comprising double bassist Antonio Miguel and drummer Owen Howard, invited the enthusiastic audience to some unexplored depths of contemporary jazz through the arithmetic of keys merged with classical inspirations and touches of groove.

Another eagerly anticipated gig was that of Londoner Ala.ni. Although her slightly overdone sense of humour, which was very present on stage from the very beginning to the end of the concert, was not to everybody’s taste, she managed to impress the audience with her beautiful voice and elegant songs: tunes reflecting a sense of sincerity and a feeling of coming from the very heart. But again, her improvisation based on random words written by the audience started to sound like a parody of her own songs after a couple of minutes, which was not fair particularly for that feeling of authenticity and sensitivity in her songs.

The festival was rich with danceable nights and midnight sessions held at Babylon, the Istanbul club. This central venue of Akbank Jazz, which moved from Beyoğlu to Bomonti two years ago, hosted bands such as Ephemerals, Mop Mop ft Anthony Joseph, Shabaka & The Ancestors and İlhan Erşahin’s Istanbul Sessions as well as midnight sessions by Nicola Cruz and by DJ Nomad, among others. Another night of dance at this year’s festival was offered by the British musician, producer and DJ Bonobo, held at the Volkswagen Arena on 11 November.

Various workshops and activities were held within the festival, aiming to introduce jazz to wider audiences, particularly to youth, hence several of these activities took place at high schools. As this piece is being written, concerts are being held at various universities in different cities of the country under the Jazz On Campus section of the festival, with tickets sold for a low, token price. Let us hope that Akbank Jazz will continue shining out in the city for many many years with such activities and great selection of music!


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